Once you’ve tasted NYC’s ambrosia, is it possible to ever truly leave?
Though I have traveled the world and have lived in many a metropolis including Paris, London, and Los Angeles, it is almost impossible for me not to be nostalgic for Manhattan. And although my family tree will always bring me back to the rustic Southwest hills of the French countryside and my more recent spiritual home will be found in a Mid-Century modern nestled in the Hollywood Hills, I will never forget my childhood in New York. You can even say that I am a dyed-in-the wool New Yorker, with roots that stretch back all the way to the 16th Century, way before the Dutch purchased the land from the French and when New York was known as New Anglouême. Later in the 19th Century whilst the city was awash with newly arrived immigrants looking to escape the social and political unrest of Italy and Eastern Europe, other members of my family arrived to Manhattan’s welcoming shores to later build skyscrapers, the Seventh Avenue fashion district and fortify New York City’s preeminent position as financial capital of the world. My great grandfather held a position at the Greenwich Savings for over 50 years. The bank, located on 36th Street, was a Classic Revival, pre-war delight of a building, replete with its Corinthian columns, Roman dome, and crisp limestone facade. My mother often told stories as to how she would visit her grand-father for lunch and sit at the window sill of his office, looking down on what must have seemed to be for a little girl of 5 years old, all of humanity, hustling and bustling down on the sidewalk.
I essentially grew up in a multi-cultural, multi-religious environment where Catholic and Jew not only cohabitated, but depended on each other’s cultural nuances for survival. Growing up my diet consisted not only of Italian fried dough, pasta, and meatballs, but also a healthy dose of Cholent, Hamentash, and Sufganiyot during the Jewish holidays. From childhood well into adulthood, East 74th Street was my home and there I was surrounded by some of the most iconic shops, restaurants, museums, and cultural hangouts that the city had to offer; from afternoons spent with my father at the Conservatory Water in Central Park to shopping with my Mother first at Bergdorf Goodman and then over to the ultimate toy paradise, F.A.O. Schwartz. Saturdays I was was bathed in a constant flow of cultural happenings at the Frick, the Met, the Whitney, and MoMA. I had the privilege of growing up in Manhattan during the 80’s and was privy to the city’s latest hotspots, some of them old and traditional places that had stood the test of time like Tavern on the Green, Lutèce, and Mortimers. Others like the brass-clad and smoke glass facade of the Trump Towers were veritable temples of all that was chic, trendy, and new. It was the days of when Haute Couture ladies would lunch in confections by Oscar, Bill, and Geoffrey and I when I would find myself at the ripe age of 10, sitting on a very sleek ultra-suede sofa speaking to Roy Halston about the rules of modern chic.
It was later in the early 90’s as a buyer for my family business that Seventh Avenue, Broadway, and the then recently launched New York Fashion Week would start to have such an impact on my personal and professional life. Whilst the work week often involved front row seats at a Donna Karan show or negotiating an extra delivery of panne velvet for the holidays, the evenings and weekends were a 20something’s paradise, socialising with the likes of Isaac Mizrahi, Christy Turlington, and Susanne Bartsch. Other nights were spent with social heavyweights like Swifty Lazar, Cornelia Guest, Barry Diller, and Nan Kempner. It was the Era of the Super Model and after-after parties that started at the wee hours of the morning in dodgy and questionable spots like Sound Factory Bar and Limelight. Between the ages of 20 and 30 my New York was a series of Park Avenue Cocktails, Lincoln Centre Openings, Madison Avenue trunk-shows, Fire Island get-a-ways, and yes, quiet suppers with my mother at Le Cirque, Balthazar, and Brasserie.
It is this fond and more placid memory on which I will leave you. A memory of me standing with my mother, immaculately turned out and approaching the stairs of the imposing Mies van der Rohe Seagrams building on Park Avenue, hustling past the crowds to an already reserved banquette for late-night pommes frites. It is ultimately a memory of architecture…for if there is one over-arching cultural element that defines all of Manhattan, for me it would be the city’s buildings and their reflection of the various peoples and periods that made Manhattan what it is. From scruffy brownstones polished anew to the sleek and modern Art Deco facades of New York’s iconic sky-scrappers, the neoclassical banks and libraries of mid-town to the almost itinerant looking hovels of the Lower east Side, the city’s glass, stone, steel, and brick always seems to blast me with a profound sensory recall of what it means to be a New Yorker. David de la Marca